Debate opens on CCJ
PM asks nation if it has no shame
Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter
Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller yesterday appealed for bipartisan approval of three bills before Parliament seeking to have the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) established as Jamaica’s final appellate court.
Her call came even as she knocked the Andrew Holness-led Opposition for being caught up with “self-interest” and not recognising that most Jamaicans cannot access the United Kingdom-based Privy Council.
In opening the debate on the bills, Simpson Miller argued that the Privy Council is fundamentally inaccessible to the vast majority of Jamaicans and that litigants and their Jamaican lawyers need visas to travel to the United Kingdom.
Those visas, she noted, are not available or granted as a right. “The Privy Council is an institution of the United Kingdom Government and it would not be in our interest to entrench in our Constitution an institution that belongs to another sovereign country,” the prime minister said.
It requires a two-thirds majority in both Houses of Parliament to secure the passage of the three bills. They are;
1) An act to make provision for the implementation of the agreement establishing the Caribbean Court of Justice and for connected matter.
2) An act to amend the Constitution of Jamaica to provide for the replacement of appeals to Her Majesty in Council with new provisions for appeals to the Caribbean Court of Justice as Jamaica’s final appellate court, and for connected matters.
3) An Act to amend the Judicature (Appellate Jurisdiction) Act.
The bills were tabled July 2012, but the parliamentary opposition has insisted that they be put before the people in a referendum.
“I am still hopeful that, more than 50 years after our Independence, we can achieve political consensus between the Government and Opposition to fulfill this important aspect of achieving independence and adopting the CCJ as Jamaica's final Court of Appeal,” Simpson Miller said.
But the benches on the other side of the Chamber were empty as Andrew Holness, the leader of the Opposition, led his side in a walkout to protest the failure of Simpson Miller to answer questions he had tabled in the House last week.
House Speaker Micheal Peart had ruled that the questions were not due for answers until today but Holness insisted that the matter was too important and that the Opposition would not sit in the chamber unless answers were being provided
by Simpson Miller.
In a jab at the Opposition, Simpson Miller noted its insistence that there should be a referendum, an exercise which she said would work to her party’s advantage.
“Let us remind ourselves that a referendum is a political process. Political parties use them for political advantage. We should not subject a decision concerning our judiciary and the highest level of our legal and judicial system to partisan politics and to the excesses of political rhetoric on political campaign platforms,” Simpson Miller said.
She also knocked a suggestion put forward by former Prime Minister Bruce Golding a few years ago that Jamaica should establish its own final court.
The prime minister said “everyone knows and accepts that the Jamaican court system is already substantially under-funded, and that the fiscal reality that gives rise to this underfunding is not likely to change any time soon”.
She added: “It would be misguided and unwise to have a new homegrown organ as our highest court, without the consistent and predictable budgetary support available to do so."
Simpson Miller noted that the CCJ was already fully funded and that Jamaica has already repaid its share of those loans.
“Since the costs of the CCJ are covered by the income and gains generated by the fully-endowed trust fund, the CCJ is not a charge on the national budgets of the countries which make use of the court,” she said.
The prime minister also said that the CCJ is acknowledged as the court in all the world that is most insulated from political interference.
"The Privy Council is a British institution. Its existence depends on the impulse and decisions of the UK Government. There have been calls from the president of the Supreme Court in the UK for Caribbean countries to make use of the CCJ and free up their judicial time to deal with cases from their home country," the prime minister recalled.
"Surely, it is time for us to take that not-so-subtle hint. Are we going to wait until we are asked directly to leave?"
"Have we no shame?," the prime minister asked.